Kids & sports: Too much of a good thing

Your daughter loves soccer so much that she wants to play it year-round. While the physical activity is great for her, the stress on her body from doing the same thing over and over might not be.

Years ago, most young athletes played several sports, skipping from one season into the next. These days, though, it’s increasingly common for kids to specialize in only one sport. This phenomenon has led to a significant rise in overuse injuries.

Unlike an acute injury, such as a fracture, overuse injuries occur gradually, when a specific movement — like pitching — is repeated frequently. These injuries can affect the body’s ligaments, tendons, bones, muscles and even the growth plates.

So what can you do to lessen your child’s risk of an overuse injury? Try out these tactics:

1. Choose different sports for different seasons. When kids participate in only one sport throughout the year, they repeatedly use the same muscle groups, placing stress on those specific areas of the body.

It’s important for kids to take a break from each sport. During that break, they can stay active with other sports, which will work different muscles.

As adults, we know it’s important to cross-train, providing our body with cardiac activity, strength training and balance training. The same is true for kids, and participating in different sports rather than one sport throughout the year will provide them that opportunity.

2. Limit certain movements. Even during a sport’s season, it’s important to have guidelines in place that limit repetitive movements.

For example, if your son is the pitcher for his baseball team, make sure the team has a strict rule in place that governs pitch count. There should be a specific number of pitches allowed before a pitcher is mandated to rest.

The same is true for other sports. Any type of repetitive movement should be limited. This includes swim strokes, tennis swings and even long-distance running motion.

When the limit is reached, kids should rest and perform other types of movement.

3. Know the signs of overuse. Not sure what to look for in terms of an overuse injury? Common signs include:

  • Dull or sharp pain not tied to an acute injury
  • Swelling
  • Numbness
  • Stiffness
  • Decreased strength or speed
  • Pain tied to activity

If your child experiences these symptoms, it’s time to take a break from activity. The rest will help the body heal.

If the pain lasts more than a few days, talk with your pediatrician. He or she may recommend applying ice or heat to the affected area, undergoing physical therapy, or taking prescription or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.

Before returning to activity, your child should have a full range of motion and experience no pain around the original injury.

Whether your child has an overuse injury or any other type of sports-related injury, our sports medicine specialists can help. Erlanger Health offers the region’s only sports medicine care for kids.